On The Road Through Vegetables, Deserts and Lies: The Presidential Election in California

News and Politics, Travel

The following piece of writing was written as part of my A2 Creative Writing Coursework Unit. If you happen to be an exams officer who’s stumbled upon this blog through a plagiarism detector – yes, I wrote this. 

Prologue

West Sussex, Wednesday, 9 November

No way man. He’ll take Virginia 10/10

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     We’ll see

I just saw Virginia

Peter

I just took 8 shots of vodka

If Trump wins all three I’m taking another 8

And if he wins overall I’m drinking 8 shots of lighter fluid

It’s 2:19am in England and my friend and I are staying up to watch the US election. The main contention right now seems to be the state of Virginia, which he is fairly certain will go to Donald Trump. I’m not convinced. Not all the votes have yet been counted, and although Trump is leading by several points, the traditionally Democratic Northern counties are still waiting to report. Sure enough, within the next hour his lead narrows, and by 4am Hillary Clinton has won the state by a margin of 5%. However, as everyone would soon realise, it wouldn’t be enough.

A few hours later, my 16 year old sister texts me from California. “This is so crazy. People in my school are wearing black tomorrow as a form of protest and honouring America’s funeral”. Later that night, thousands of protesters will block highways across the state. In New York, thousands more will march down 5th Avenue towards Trump Tower, furious at the fact that, even though their candidate would end up polling well over 2 million more votes, The White House would end up in the hands of someone very different. As I scrolled through my Twitter feed, reading paranoid cries proclaiming the end of Western civilization, I couldn’t help but mull over the fact that it was certainly entertaining, that is, in the same way that our sheer morbid curiosity has us watching slow-motion car crashes from the perspective of some Russian dash cam.

This was the election when everyone was suddenly concerned about the phenomenon of so-called “fake news”, when debate audiences shouted down fact checkers. An election fought between a serial liar and a man who seemed to posses a scorching contempt for truth itself. Neither of the two sides will ever admit this, but their candidates were just as dishonest as each other. Clinton lied until there was no one left to lie to, while Trump managed to find himself on opposite ends of every major policy position. “I hate the concept of guns,” were once the words of a man endorsed by the National Rifle Association. A man who shuffled between fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act and support for universal healthcare. A man who was such a devout Christian that he couldn’t cite a single bible verse, and such a strong believer in traditional marriage that he’s had three of them.

In the aftermath, his supporters continued to chant “Drain The Swamp,” a slogan meant to signify cleaning Washington of corruption and special interests, while Trump filled his transition team with a vast array of swamp creatures. Instead of draining the swamp, he seemed to be building a brand new one right next to it. Soon, in a moment so surreal it would leave Picasso envious, the clearly out of his depth President-elect found himself shaking hands with Barack Obama. “I have great respect” was what Trump then said about the man he previously claimed was “the founder of ISIS.” Otto Von Bismarck once said that “People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.” Over one hundred years after his death, the Prussian’s wise words certainly ring true.

 

Clinton Country

Los Angeles, Monday, 24 October

If there’s one thing Americans definitely take seriously, it’s Halloween. In a tale not unlike that of Christmas, it’s a holiday that has gradually evolved into the perfect expression of American capitalism. That is, to paraphrase Neil Degrasse Tyson, a Pagan holiday turned Christian holiday turned shopping holiday, it has long left behind its traditional religious roots in favour of selling children and adults alike on an array of terribly overpriced costumes. If you’re a kid, then it’s a holiday where you walk around and harass your neighbours for free sweets. If you’re an adult, Halloween is both an excuse to get drunk as well as a time to pay society back for all the free candy you got when you were a kid.

It’s about a week before Halloween and as I’m walking around our neighbourhood while still recovering from jet lag, it’s clear that the locals have prepared. Everything is covered in pumpkins and synthetic spider webs. Props and decorations are in front of almost every house, from skeletons to zombies and vampires, while a family down the road has even erected an entire graveyard. One of our neighbours, a funny young guy with a passion for surfing, has drawn Donald Trump’s face on a pumpkin and displayed it proudly on his lawn. Every so often, someone from their house comes out and whacks this poor little Trumpkin with a baseball bat. Attitudes like that aren’t uncommon in Los Angeles, for this is firmly Clinton Country.

Simply walking around most of LA’s suburbs is enough to realise who’s winning here. Lawn signs and placards declaring support for the Clinton campaign are everywhere and after a few hours I’m still yet to find a single one advertising for the other side. In fact, I’ve seen more people publicly endorsing Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s unsuccessful primary opponent, than the official Republican nominee. It’s as if the entire mighty Trump movement has gone underground, and there’s nothing more to blame than America’s ancient two party system.

Most democracies have changed quite a lot over the past two hundred years; universal suffrage was expanded, women won the right to vote and more proportional voting methods and electoral systems became widespread. That is, unless you happen to live in The United States. Sure, universal suffrage for white men was introduced in 1856, for black men in 1870 (although voter suppression of African Americans continued for decades after) and finally for women in 1920. However, the electoral system by which Americans elect their President, or rather don’t, has remained unchanged since its very inception.

Votes in US Presidential elections are given to states, not people. Each state is given a number of votes depending on its population, and whichever candidate wins a state, no matter the majority, he or she receives all of that state’s electoral college votes. Out of the 538 total votes, 270 are needed to win.

This is an awful way to run an election in any modern democracy, with the most obvious problem being that someone can easily win the Presidency without getting the most votes from actual people. This has happened before, most recently in 2000 when George W Bush received 500,000 fewer votes than Al Gore but still won due getting just 500 more in Florida. Furthermore, the fact that each state gets 3 votes before the rest are distributed according to population means that smaller states get disproportionately more, and bigger states disproportionately less, than they logically should. As a result, it is mathematically possible to become the President of The United States with only 22% of the popular vote, a scenario that, while extremely unlikely, is so ludicrously indefensible that its very existence is enough reason alone to push for electoral reform.

The only reason that such a result has never yet happened, however, is another strike against the Electoral College. As most states tend to lean heavily in one direction or the other, votes in some places happen to be worth far more than in others. If you’re unfortunate enough to be a Democratic supporter in Texas or South Carolina, you might as well stay home. This is also why the Republicans aren’t putting in much effort in the suburbs of Los Angeles. According to Nate Silver, one of America’s top polling analysts, Trump’s chances of winning California currently stand lower than 0.1%, which is why neither of the two candidates have even visited the state since the primaries.

Walking back home, I can’t help but gawk at a particularly enthusiastic household, even by the aforementioned Trumpkin standards. Several Clinton signs are displayed on the walls, on the lawn and on the tree in the front garden. By the doorway stands a lifesize cardboard cutout of the Democratic nominee herself, holding a sign which reads “Vote!” To her immediate right, an equally large cutout of a smiling Barack Obama with a sign proclaiming “I’m with her,” a slogan used heavily by the Clinton campaign to emphasise her female credentials. Finally, from the roof hangs what appears to be a piñata, a piñata dressed as Donald Trump. Presumably, come Halloween, the members of this household will smash it apart and devour whatever contents lie inside. It reminds me of that time when mining villages in South Yorkshire celebrated Margaret Thatcher’s funeral by hanging and burning effigies of the former British Prime Minister. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about getting people involved in politics, but surely everything has its limits.

 

Farmers For Trump!

Central Valley, Near Bakersfield, Friday, 28 October

We decide to take a trip to San Francisco, about a six hour drive from Los Angeles along Interstate 5, a journey which can say a lot about the current political situation in America. After finally escaping the infamous LA traffic, the highway initially leads through the San Emigdio Mountains, separating the LA and Kern Counties. Emerging on the other side of the mountain range feels like entering a completely different reality, as the bustling metropolitan landscape of the second largest city in North America gives way to the sparsity of the Central Valley.

100 km wide and 720 km long, the valley appears to be a living oxymoron. Suffering from what is now a five year drought, the landscape at first appears barren, devoid of much life or vegetation. However, what soon follows is thousands upon thousands of acres of farmland, stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s a spectacle that can make even the world’s greatest pessimist revel in admiration, for despite the worst drought in recorded history, this valley accounts for over half of the vegetables, fruits and nuts grown in the United States of America. It is an achievement only made possible by an extensive system of synthetic reservoirs and canals – a true feat of modern engineering. However, there is also cause for great tension here.

Despite being a concern some of us might only think applicable in either the developing world or dystopian fiction, water is a huge issue in California, so much so that wasting it is now considered a criminal offense. Anyone hoping to maintain a garden in Palmdale or Los Angeles will find themselves combating ever tightening regulations, while fines for acting carelessly with this ever so important resource amount to hundreds of dollars per person. Yet many campaigners want to tighten the laws further, a truly alarming prospect to the 450,000 people currently employed by California’s 46 billion dollar agricultural sector.

To many of them, these efforts are nothing but an ill advised attempt by the state’s ever growing metropolitan elite to indulge in ‘ignorant farmer bashing.’ Quite understandably, they aren’t prepared to stand aside and let their livelihoods be destroyed by millennial environmentalist campaigners sitting on MacBooks and sipping Starbucks coffee. Many of them are prepared to vote to prevent this from ever happening. While cruising along  Interstate 5, we make a stop for petrol. Getting out of the car, I am immediately greeted by two signs fixed to the side of a rusty detached freight container. On the left, We Need Water & Jobs NOT Jim Costa, a reference to the local Democratic congressman who has accused farmers of pumping groundwater at unsustainable rates, and on the right, VOTE TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.

When Hillary Clinton was filmed at a fundraiser back in September saying that “half” of Trump’s supporters could be put in what she called “The Basket of Deplorables,” it was easily one of the greatest own goals of this entire campaign. As she happily labelled millions of people as “Racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic, you name it,” she not only broke what is often considered to be rule one of political campaigning (say whatever you want about your opponent, but never, ever, attack the electorate), but also helped to advance an already established view of herself as someone who couldn’t care less about ordinary people. Soon enough, Trump supporters had completely appropriated the term for their own ends, as “Deplorable” t-shirts were being sold at rallies all over the country.

Logically speaking, there was certainly truth in what Clinton said. After receiving endorsements from familiar names such as the Ku Klux Klan, I am willing to wager that just about every single xenophobe and white nationalist in America is voting for Donald Trump. However, most of those people don’t live in the kind of places that matter in US elections. Should every single confederate flag waving lunatic living out of a trailer park in South Carolina come out and vote for Trump in November, that wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference as far as the electoral college is concerned.

Instead, this election will be decided not by the deplorable but by the disenfranchised, and those people are turning out for Trump in droves. Certainly there has to be a better reason than mere prejudice behind every Farmers For Trump! billboard that we drive by on our way to San Francisco. These people aren’t racists or xenophobes, they employ thousands of immigrants. Their farms are only running thanks to the Mexicans, Jamaicans and Guatemalans that work on them, approximately a third for less than the minimum wage. So why then? Why is a New York billionaire who grew up in Manhattan and lives in mansion in Palm Beach so fervently supported by farmers in rural California?

Despite what you may hear from the other side, it’s not racism, and neither is it stupidity. It is because while Hillary Clinton has focused on maximizing support among the metropolitan elite of San Francisco and Los Angeles, Trump has been very clear about which side he represents in California’s ongoing water war. “There is no drought.” he told a Fresno audience during the primaries back in May. “We’re going to solve your water problem… If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water so that you can have your farmers survive.”

Everyone knows that there’s a drought in California; simply going outside is usually enough evidence to prove it, however, most people also know that Donald Trump isn’t particularly clever. They might question his reasoning, but they certainly don’t doubt his intentions, and while a few hundred thousand agricultural workers in the Central Valley will not swing this election, their story is replicated everywhere across the country.

 

Designed In California

San Francisco, Saturday, 29 October

After six hours on the road, and one night spent at a motel somewhere along the way, we finally get to San Francisco. As we drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, the city in front of us is covered in a thick fog. For many of Donald Trump’s supporters, it serves as a perfect representation of everything that is wrong with contemporary America, both in cultural terms as well as economic. Culturally, it is viewed as a place that has been completely overrun by out of touch quasi-liberal fruitcakes. Economically, it represents a growing shift in Western countries, a shift away from manufacturing and towards Research and Development.

To the south of the San Francisco Bay Area, around the city of San Jose, lies Silicon Valley: the home of Apple, Google, AMD and dozens of other multinational corporations. It is only due to this massive sprawl of local startups and global tech giants that California can now proudly call itself the world’s fifth largest economy, having recently overtaken both France and the United Kingdom. On the surface, this might seem like an incredible achievement, but not one that is appreciated by everyone across America. For many of those living in post industrial Northern states, their support for Donald Trump stems as much from their opposition to Silicon Valley as it does from their opposition to Wall Street. Since Western economies have shifted from industry to R&D, it is those working in manufacturing jobs that have been left behind.

America is a big place, and one would be wrong to assume that everyone who lives there happens to share in the same values and priorities as they do. What excites and energises a farmer living on the outskirts of Bakersfield is likely quite different than a Santa Monica Liberal Arts graduate. Now imagine you’re a poor, thirty something, blue collar worker from South East Michigan. You’ve recently lost your job because the car factory that you used to work in has packed up shop and relocated overseas. Let’s also say that you have a wife who is a teacher at the local elementary school and gets paid a pittance, and two small kids that need to be clothed and fed.

Up comes the election, and two very different candidates are fighting for your vote. One of them is a massively corrupt political insider that lobbied and voted for all the familiar sounding trade deals. You know, the trade deals that have sent your beloved car factory to Calcutta and yourself to the job seekers’ queue. The other candidate is a massively corrupt sexist asshole that wants to tear up that goddam trade deal. In a normal election, you would probably have concluded that your best chance to get that job back is voting for the Democrat. However, this isn’t any normal election. If you want to understand a crucial part of Trump’s appeal, just read the smallprint on the back of your iPhone – “Designed in California. Assembled in China,” It could very well have been his campaign slogan.

There may even be an argument to the effect that, had the Democrats run a typical establishment candidate with a relatively clean record, they might have at least won the moral argument. But what chance of that is there now? For the past few months, the Clinton campaign has been running ads showing Donald Trump saying a plethora of naughty words. Earlier in October, recordings surfaced in which the Republican nominee essentially admitted to groping women. The media exploded with condemnation; some said that the election was practically over, that we might as well hold hands, sing kumbaya and embrace her majesty Mrs Clinton.

However, most of those voting for Trump don’t see him as the ultimate arbiter of morality, and it’s pretty hard to claim that moral high ground when your past is as reprehensible as that of Hillary Clinton. Trump may have used his billionaire status to force himself on unsuspecting women, however, Clinton also just happened to be complicit in the harassment of a number of women who’ve accused her husband of sexual assault. Now, whether groping is a more heinous offense than harassing rape survivors is up to you to decide, but surely neither can claim to be a moral authority intent on telling others how to behave.

Corruption and lies are the two things which, above all, have come to characterise the rise of Hillary Clinton. It certainly doesn’t help that she’s married to a man who, to paraphrase US lawyer David Schippers, lied to a criminal grand jury, lied to the people, lied to his aides, lied to The Congress and kept on lying until there was no one left to lie to. For the Clintons, lying has all but become an impulse, an instinctive reflex used to extend their political survival. Many American voters still remember Mrs Clinton’s story of “landing under sniper fire” and having to run to her vehicle during a visit to Bosnia in 1996. A tremendous PR disaster soon ensued when it emerged that the entire episode had been wholly manufactured. In truth, the then First Lady spent several minutes on the tarmac with a large Bosnian greeting ceremony, footage of which emerged not long afterwards.

One might assume that, following such a humiliating incident, Hillary Clinton might be encouraged to pursue a slightly more transparent approach, but to no avail. Near the end of the summer, speculation began to emerge that the Democratic nominee might be suffering from poor health, but the Clinton campaign vigorously swept aside any such speculation. In the end, this secrecy merely culminated in yet another PR disaster, when during a 9/11 remembrance event in New York City, the kind of event where every political bone in your body should be screaming “don’t make news,” Clinton was filmed collapsing while being escorted away by her secret service detail. As her campaign soon revealed, turns out Clinton had pneumonia, not exactly something most people would deeply care about. However, the damage was already done, and it was two sided. Clinton’s fervent secrecy not only helped to present her as an untrustworthy individual, but also created a vacuum in which conspiracy theories far more exciting than mere pneumonia could spread.

 

Epilogue

Santa Monica, Wednesday, 21 December

“He’s just a fucking idiot, if you’ll excuse my French.”

“Oh no, it’s fine.”

“Just a massive fucking idiot.”

After an offhand comment on my part, the Uber driver started talking about Donald Trump. Back in California for Christmas, things have seemingly returned to normal. The Halloween decorations and presidential piñatas are gone, almost as if the prophesied end of the world hadn’t even happened.

“You know, I think his children will soon disown him,” he continued.

“Oh yeah? Which ones?”

“Well… I think Ivanka.”

“She definitely seems to be smarter than him.”

“But, you know, I think generally what we’re seeing is a good thing. The country, I mean, it feels like it’s going to go back to the people. You know? Like back to the principles it was founded on.”

Well, he clearly wasn’t a terribly big fan of Trump, yet somehow there was cause for optimism. Although the argument that Trump won because of “the people” is slightly countered by the fact that he got almost three million fewer votes, the cause for optimism isn’t necessarily unfounded. Sure, the next leader of the free world is a massively insecure man-child whose Twitter account has a good chance of causing international incidents, but perhaps his ascent to power represents something greater than any one single US President.

More than anything else, American elections are traditionally won on the backs of gigantic piles of cash, yet rather paradoxically, Trump, the single wealthiest individual to ever enter the Oval Office, might have just ended that trend. The Clinton campaign outspent its rival roughly two to one, just like Obama had outspent Romney and John McCain and just like Bush did in his campaign against Gore and then Kerry. The pattern seems to be clear. Want to be the leader of the free world? No problem, just fork over more money than the other guy or gal. Except this time that didn’t work.

Maybe that’s the silver lining this time around. Whoever was going to win this election, the White House would have ended up in the hands of a corrupt and lying narcissist. While a victory for Clinton would have also been one for America’s political establishment, Trump’s assent to power was nothing short of a political revolution. Proof, if you will, that the American people can still eject from power those that they feel have screwed them.

Perhaps Trump is merely a rough stepping stone towards a country whose rulers once again fear the wrath of their electorate, and not the other way around. It is also, undeniably, a personal triumph of incredible proportions. When, in June 2015, Donald J Trump descended down an elevator to the sounds of cheers from “supporters” who were paid $50 a head to be there, everyone either dismissed or laughed at him. I’m not sure what Mahatma Gandhi, the legendary leader of India’s independence movement, would have thought of Trump, but his words have ended up as prophecy: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, and then you win.”

 

Meanwhile in the USA

News and Politics

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, two days ago, at around 14:40 on Wednesday 22nd March, a 52-year-old man by the name of Khalid Masood drove a grey Hyundai Tucson onto the South side of Westminster Bridge. After running over a series of pedestrians, Masood crashed his SUV into the railings outside the Palace of Westminster. He then got out and sprinted through the gates into New Palace Yard, where he was shot after stabbing 48-year-old PC Keith Palmer. Four civilians who were hit on the bridge later died in hospital.

Attacks by Islamic radicals have become a depressingly regular occurrence in Europe’s cities. That being said, I’ve walked across that bridge well over a dozen times. A relative of someone very close to me happened to do so minutes before the attacker struck, so this one happens to hit rather close to home. Yet for many others, terrorism will continue to become increasingly normalised, and so to will be the usual responses.

Here’s a tip – You can find it within yourself to acknowledge that the religion of Islam has quite a bit to do with terrorism while also recognising the fact that the vast majority of British Muslims totally deplore such acts. Yet, in another indication of how polarised the world of politics has become, many seem all too keen to rush to extreme conclusions: one side proclaiming that Islam is wholly peace and the other that it only promotes violence. In truth, they’re both right – to a certain extent. As with the Bible, the Koran is a farcical collection of ridiculous contradictions, so much so that it could probably be used to advocate almost anything. There’s a reason why the Medieval European kingdoms found the Bible such a useful tool for controlling their populations, and why the Catholic Church fought tooth and nail against efforts to translate the text from Latin into the common languages. Because, in the words of Isaac Asimov, “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.”

Anyway. There was another response to Wednesday’s attack, one that came from across the Atlantic and one which I seek to address here. As Fox News ran segments absurdly claiming that London was defeatist and demoralised (we survived the Blitz and the IRA and can certainly handle a lone maniac armed with an SUV and a knife), figure after figure on the American right, including Britain’s own biggest national embarrassment, Nigel Farage, lined up to claim that the attack showed:

  1. That Europe’s policies on immigration and security have failed.
  2. That Donald Trump is right about his travel ban.

Now, while the response from London’s police and other emergency services has been nothing short of exemplary, and while there’s certainly valid criticisms to be made about some aspects of our immigration policy, neither I nor anyone else on this continent will be taking any lectures from the American right about keeping our people safe. If you’re one of those individuals, pay attention, because I’m going to tell you a story.

At around 12:30 on Wednesday 22nd March, the same day as the Westminster attack, officers of the Rothschild Police Department were called to a shooting incident at the Marathon Savings Bank in Northern Wisconsin. When they arrived, they found that two people had already been shot and that the suspect had fled the scene. More shots were soon reported at around 13:10 and again at 13:30 when it became apparent that the shooter had barricaded himself in a nearby apartment complex. At just before 14:30, a heavily armed SWAT team arrived and began evacuating the residents, while a standoff with the gunman began. The situation drew to a close as, at roughly 16:55, more gunshots were heard and the suspect was brought into custody. Overall, three civilians and a police officer were killed. The event barely made its way into the national press.

A few days earlier, on the 19th March, a shooting occurred at a concert in Louisville, Kentucky. One student was killed and five others were injured. The incident was only reported on the local news and the gunman is yet to be found. The day before that, on the 18th of March, a 23-year-old man walked into a home near central Detroit and proceeded to shoot and kill three people. Two others were injured before the shooter was brought into police custody and the event only found itself mentioned on local news channels. CNN was too busy reporting on a terrorist incident in Paris (where only the attacker was killed).

On the 10th of March, three people were shot dead in New Orleans and two in Chicago. Heard about that? No, of course not. Between the 4th and the 7th of March, 16 were injured and one was killed in incidents spanning Topeka, Columbus, Sacramento and again Chicago. On the 3rd, 9 were injured in shootings between Riverside and Philidelphia, and 6 in Cincinnati the day before. I could go on, but I think you get my point. So far in 2017, 2599 Americans have been shot and killed by other Americans, while (since 9/11) an average of one per year is killed by foreign-born jihadists.

There are no reliable statistics concerning the amount of times that US Police discharge their weapons, but what we do know is that they had to shoot and kill over a thousand people in 2016 alone. Meanwhile, in a number that will surely make you proud to be British, police in England and Wales discharged their weapons on a total of 7 incidents in 2015 and 2016 combined, while the country at large has somehow managed a total of six consecutive years without a single mass shooting (hmmm, I do wonder why?).

So, if you’re a member of the American right who happens to have made it this far, I’ll give you this simple ultimatum – Sort out your own country’s insane gun violence problem before lecturing Europeans about security. And if you still refuse to do so – here’s your kind invitation to go fuck yourself.

Taxes, God and The American Right’s War To Bring Down A 215-Year-Old Wall

News and Politics

“Gentlemen

The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.”

– Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, 1st January 1802

Despite over two hundred years of scientific progress, Darwin’s Origin of Species, the Big Bang, electricity and penicillin, it is a truly remarkable observation that the people who founded the United States of America, back then only a conglomerate of colonies rebelling against the largest empire in human history, were distinctively less religious than the people that currently lead it.

In late 1801, a group of Connecticut Baptists wrote a letter to President Jefferson expressing concern that their congregation might come under persecution by their state’s Protestant majority. Jefferson’s reply, which you can see above, makes clear that no religious group may use the powers of the state to serve their own interests, simply because the constitution of the United States, that sacred document which the American Right loves to selectively obsess over, makes clear that the state may not get involved in matters concerning religion.

Ever the diplomat, Jefferson was rather polite in his letter, although the same cannot be said about the opinions of America’s other founding fathers on matters concerning divinity. “We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition”, wrote George Washington in January 1793. John Adams was much clearer – “The Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”  Benjamin Franklin famously stated that “Lighthouses are more useful than churches” while James Madison claimed that “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” Should you want further evidence you may find it here and here, and while we may debate context and intent, two facts are beyond scrutiny:

  1. The United States is not and was never a Christian nation.
  2. The people who founded it had some very strong opinions about the possibility of it becoming one.

Fast forwards to the year AD 2017 and the group that most of the founding fathers would have been comfortably placed in, that being among the “religiously unaffiliated”, which makes up about 20% of the country, has no representation in the US House or Senate. Not officially anyway. It is very likely that a considerable number of American legislators possess no religious beliefs, but such views are electorally toxic and best kept in the closet.

I certainly wouldn’t call myself a believer in the US Constitution in the sense of perceiving it to be infallible. It has been amended before, quite a number of times, and therefore anyone claiming that it should be respected point by point as it was at the date of its conception is either ignorant, misinformed or incredibly regressive. Once upon a time, the 13th amendment was passed, which abolished slavery. Some time later, the 18th amendment prohibited the sale of alcohol. Some time after that, the 21st amendment repealed the 18th amendment after everyone and their grandmother realised that prohibition is ridiculous.

The argument I wish to make is not that separation of church and state, as enshrined in the 1st amendment, is untouchable by virtue of being enshrined in the 1st amendment – that’s the kind of argument a twenty-six-year-old redneck from South Carolina makes when he doesn’t want to pass a background check before buying his seven-year-old daughter an assault rifle at Wallmart:

“Why not”

“Because 2nd amendment”

“Should gay people be allowed to marry”

“No, something something states rights something something 10th ammendment ”

“But the constitution also states that the Federal Government can override state’s rights on matters of civil liberties”

“Shut up libtard”

No, my point is simply that a secular state is one of the vital foundations of a modern civilised society and if you happen to agree then what is currently happening in the United States should serve to moderately terrify you. If you don’t, and instead think that the United States should become a Christian Saudi Arabia, then you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

It is no secret that Churches in the United States are exempt from taxes. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous, but one neat silver lining in that has also long been the fact that organisations registered under the tax-exempt non-profit status are prohibited from endorsing political candidates. It’s that beautiful wall again: the state doesn’t get involved in religion and religion doesn’t get involved in matters of state. It’s known as the “Johnson Amendment”, and it is also something which Donald Trump has recently pledged to “get rid of and totally destroy.” Legislation to do so is currently in the works.

It’s pretty obvious that President Trump himself is far from a fundamentalist Christian – he struggled to come up with a single biblical verse during the campaign and believes so much in traditional marriage that he’s had three of them. However, it is also pretty obvious that President Trump is far from the only person pulling the strings in the new administration. His Vice President, Mike Pence, is a long and proud member of the Evangelical Right. So, to a slightly lesser degree, is Steve Bannon, Trump’s right-hand man and chief strategist.

Donald Trump is a businessman and a reality TV star. He’s a narcissist who wants millions to cheer his name as other people make America great again for him. He doesn’t really care, or know, that much about policy, and my guess is that he’s more than happy to let the extreme elements in his inner circle to write it as long as he himself looks good. To “get rid of and totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment, hence allowing giant money making machines hiding behind the veil of Christianity to donate billions of dollars to the Republican Party, is only the beginning.

Meet Betsy DeVos, the 59-year-old Calvinist and major Republican Party donor. DeVos has spent a lot of her time helping to fund the American right, and practically no time working in the education sector. The only reason I mention that is because she was just confirmed as the next United States Secretary of Education. How and why? Here are some numbers:

200,000,000

8,300,000

950,000

23

The first number is the total amount, in US dollars, that the DeVos family has donated to the Republican Party. The second number is the amount they have donated to Republican super PACs over the past two election cycles. The third number is the total amount in US dollars that the DeVos family has donated to sitting members of the United States Senate. The final number is how many Senators that money was split between.

Now, maybe I’m just being paranoid. Maybe the real reason Betsy DeVos gets to set out the education policy of the greatest country on earth is due to her personal excellence in the field (despite never having worked in it). Maybe every other person on the shortlist simply died in a car crash or during the infamous Bowling Green Massacre. However, what I frankly think is far more plausible is that Betsy DeVos was able to get nominated for the post, and then get approved by a majority of one, because the US political system has allowed her to bribe almost a quarter of sitting United States Senators.

But this blog isn’t about America’s terrifically broken campaign finance system, so why am I even mentioning her? The reason I mention Betsy DeVos, the new United States Secretary of Education, is because Betsy DeVos is a fundamentalist Christian and now one of the greatest threats to secularism in American schools.

During her time as a lobbyist, DeVos has spent decades trying to expand Charter Schools, which are essentially private and or religious institutions funded with public money. If you’re a US taxpayer, please understand that Betsy DeVos wants you to pay for children to be taught that the world is 6000 years old and that the reason we’re all here on earth is because a woman was lied to by a talking snake.

Just so her personal motives couldn’t be any clearer, DeVos had previously stated that education reform was a way to “advance God’s kingdom.” Over the years, she and her family have given millions of dollars to groups and organisations that advocate “intelligent design”, a slightly smarter way of saying “creationism.” While she has refused to clarify her personal views, DeVos’s previous rhetoric and record of political donations suggest that the next United States Secretary of Education does not believe in evolution.

Much of her talking points concerning public (state) schools have focused around the concept of providing “choice.” While that might sound innocent enough on paper, “choice” is the argument that intelligent design advocates have made for decades when advocating that their absurd theological junk deserves to be taught alongside established scientific theory. It is currently against the law in the United States for public schools to teach creationism, however, the same can currently be said about churches and political endorsements and the current administration is showing no restraint in bringing down that particular wall.

So, to recap – a Michigan billionaire with no experience in the public education sector who holds a wide aray of extremely regressive and anti-secularist and anti-scientific views has bribed her way to the position of United States Secretary of Education. Meanwhile, as his administration is stuffed with fundamentalist Christians who hold little regard for the 1st amendment, President Trump is throwing his support behind efforts to allow America’s extremely wealthy network of churches to get involved, both in terms of funding and rhetoric, in the US political system. As Trump prepares to build one wall and make American taxpayers pay for it, he is smashing another one down – and the consequences of this wall existing (or not) are far scarier.

EDIT: I think it should be pointed out that it is unlikely that DeVos and the Trump administration will attempt to enforce new anti-scientific curriculum on the US Public School system. What I find far more likely is that rules will be greatly relaxed to allow for that to happen locally in states where hardcore creationist views are widespread. Basically, if you live in California, I find it doubtful that your children will be taught about talking snakes anytime soon. That being said, substitute California for Arkansas (or practically any Bible-belt state of your own choosing) and the situation changes dramatically.

Crowds Are Overrated: If You Want Change, Be Prepared To Vote For It

News and Politics

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

-Albert Einstein

I’ve only really been to two protests in my life. The first was in Moscow in 2014. It was a few months after Putin’s “little green men” had invaded Crimea, and the whole country was riding on a giant torrent of nationalism that sent Putin’s approval ratings through the roof and thousands of young Russians to Donbass. We heard that there was going to be a demonstration in support of those fighting against the Ukrainian government, and thought it might be fun to go and take a look.

There were about 400 people there – a mix of crazy nationalists, religious freaks and curious Moscovites, all gathered in a car park right next to the main road and just in front of some old Soviet-era apartment blocks. A platform was erected on which an array of energetic speakers shouted absurd nonsense about the “murderous fascist junta” across the border and something about “invisible tanks”. There was a kiosk where some middle-aged women were giving out propaganda, a big water container which the organisers must have brought along to help mitigate the effects of the Russian summer heat, and an array of curious flags. Alongside the obligatory Russian ones, people were carrying around two variations on the flag of Novorossiya, one of which featured a picture of Jesus that looked far more like Rasputin. We enjoyed this freakshow for about fifteen minutes, then got back in the car and left.

The other time was in London on the 12th of September, 2015. It was the Refugee Solidarity march that was organised in response to the government’s initial refusal to accept any of those fleeing the war in Syria. Just to be clear, I’m far from your stereotypical leftist who believes in open borders and other delusional crap, but I thought at the time that Britain had some sort of obligation to take in a reasonable amount of those fleeing wars that we helped create and while our European partners were feeling the brunt of the crisis on their own.

There were about 70,000 people there that day. My friend and I got off the tube at Marble Arch and immediately stumbled into the whole procession, which was to head South along Hyde Park, by Trafalgar square, through Whitehall and finally finish at Parliament. The tens of thousands present at the march were a huge left-wing coalition ranging from the reasonable to the outright nutty. If you’ve never been to one of these things, there is practically never any uniformity and all the various factions like to make their presence known. There were signs and banners representing Amnesty International, the Liberal Democrats, Left Unity, the Socialist Workers Party, The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, Stop The War Coalition and so on.

Some of these groups clearly had a larger agenda which they were keen to use the refugee crisis to exploit. Near the start of the procession, around Marble Arch, some old Marxists were trying to sell copies of their newspaper. Stop The War activists were handing out leaflets urging people to travel all the way to Manchester and protest the Tory Party conference (clearly their middle-class followers have nothing better to do with their time). Supporters of the Socialist Party, the descendants of Militant (the hard-left faction that tried to infiltrate and got booted out of the Labour Party in the 1980s), were carrying signs that read “#Refugee Lives Matter, TAKE THE WEALTH OF THE 1%”… Nothing like a bunch of irrelevant Marxist garbage to ruin a perfectly good protest.

 

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The idea, almost fetishised by parts of the left, that large protests can sweep away injustice and any of the other things we don’t like is a long-established piece of idealism, but not much more. The left loves protests, they love their chants and flags and placards. For some, it brings memories of the Civil Rights Movement, of Mandella’s campaign against apartheid, of the Suffragettes and of every other big issue on which they were on the right side of history. For others, it echoes distant cries of revolution – of waving red flags during the Paris Commune and of brave young Bolsheviks storming the Winter Palace despite fierce resistance from a group of terrified teenage cadets and a women’s death battalion.

Large crowds are a spectacle. They make us feel like a part of something huge. They’re psychologically enthralling. However, unless you’re prepared to charge at the gates of Parliament, molotov cocktail in one hand and a copy of Das Capital in the other, then crowds are a pretty weak vehicle for change. They let you vent your frustration while inconveniencing varying numbers of commuters, but not much more. As our march arrived in Parliament Square, a man carrying a union flag jumped atop some platform and started shouting at the protesters. “You wouldn’t take any of them into your own home!” he cried as the masses bellow heckled back. It felt almost like the House of Commons on a bad day, just a lot more irrelevant.

During the 1983 election campaign, Labour’s Michael Foot would speak to packed halls of enthusiastic supporters. He would shout about the need for nuclear disarmament and about renationalisation, and they would cheer back. Afterwards, his aides would show him the latest polling figures, which projected a massive landslide in favour of the other side.

“That’s impossible” Foot would say. “There were three thousand people in there waiting to hear me speak.”

“Yes, Michael” they would tell him, “that’s everyone that agrees with you.”

Twenty years later, no longer Labour leader, Michael Foot addressed another meeting of people, this time in London’s Hyde Park. This time, instead of three thousand people, he spoke to about a million. They had assembled that day, on February 15th, 2003, in protest against their government’s plans to invade Iraq. As passionate and brilliant as ever, Foot cried of the need for peace and for the world to ditch nuclear weapons. About a month later, American missiles started landing in Baghdad. Both George Bush and Tony Blair would go on to win re-election.

In late June 2016, after Britain voted to leave the European Union, tens of thousands once again descended on Central London. This time they dressed in blue and carried flags with twelve yellow stars. “The people were lied to” they cried. “We love Europe” they cried. “I have a human right to go on holiday to the South of France without having to bother getting a visa” they cried. Yet if just over a million more people voted Remain, they could have saved themselves the trouble. As always, the traditionally pro-EU youth vote couldn’t be bothered to turn up at the voting booth in numbers anywhere near as large as their older counterparts. Despite the paranoid cries, their future wasn’t stolen from them – they just couldn’t be asked to vote for it.

Later that year, the world was aghast in outrage at the events occurring in the Syrian city of Aleppo, where the final destruction of encircled rebel forces presented yet another bloody twist in an already long and brutal civil war. The well-oiled global outrage machine spun into action. Commentators left and right wrote countless opinion pieces calling for their respective governments to do something. New and catchy Twitter hashtags were created to feed the marching armies of slacktivists. The American ambassador to the UN launched a fiery tirade against her Russian counterpart. She accused him of having no shame, of throwing decency and human rights down the dustbin of history – all while American bombs continued to fall on Yemeni hospitals.

In the heat of the moment, old habits die hard – and another protest was organised in Central London. This time it would work. This time a few hundred well-meaning Britons holding makeshift cardboard signs will force Vladimir Putin into submission. I’ll leave you to guess as to how successful that one was.

And then Trump was elected President. Across the United States, from the District of Columbia to Los Angeles, millions took part in the “Women’s March.” It was the largest day of protests since Martin Luther King and the Civil Right Movement. A few days later, sitting in the Oval Office and surrounded exclusively by men, Trump signed an executive order that cancelled funding to NGOs providing abortion in the developing world. It’s almost as if he couldn’t care less as to what the protestors thought.

The President then enacted his new and controversial immigration ban. I already wrote about it here. It’s stupid and wrong and probably won’t save a single American. It was also perfect fodder for the self-righteous outrage mob. What could they possibly do to stop the new American President? How could they convince their own Prime Minister to stop shamefully licking his boots? Perhaps they could get together some money and launch a campaign? Perhaps they could hire smart and capable people, sign up volunteers, knock on doors and when the time came, kick the pair of them out of office and replace them with someone who would do their bidding. But that’s not what happened. Instead, they got their makeshift cardboard signs and their banners and their placards and their flags and their Twitter hashtags and they marched on Central London.

Trump’s Absurd “Muslim Ban” Has Almost Nothing To Do With Security and Everything To Do With Politics

News and Politics

As much as I disagree with what President Trump has done, and we’ll definitely get on to that, I also feel it is necessary to start with a certain factual statement. This is not a Muslim ban. This is a ban on anyone who is a national, or a dual-national, of seven Muslim-majority countries. Far from all Muslims are therefore included in the ban, and, out of those that are, not everyone happens to be a Muslim. The reason I feel it necessary to point this out is because it is currently very difficult to realise that that is indeed the case if you haven’t been following the situation all too closely.

The majority of news outlets are simply calling it “Trump’s Muslim ban” without actually going on to explain exactly what it does. As a result, many people are currently very misinformed, thinking that the President has just banned all of the world’s Muslims from the United States. That is not what happened, and I am rather concerned that the media has done such a poor job handling what is without a doubt a very emotional situation. I know that many of them have an axe to grind with Trump, but misinforming the American people, and many other people, is certainly the wrong response. Now, with that out of the way…

Since 2000, how many American civilians were killed by Iraqi nationals? Zero.

How many American civilians were killed by Irani nationals? Zero

And how many were killed by Lybians? Zero

What about Somalians? Zero

And Syrians? Zero

Sudanese? Zero

Ok… what about Yemenis then? Also Zero.

– Those are the seven countries included in Trump’s ban.

Now, since 2000, how many American civilians were killed by terrorists from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon? 2,977. Yet not a single one of those countries is included in the ban. Saudi princes will still be able to come over and sniff cocaine off the asses of Miami prostitutes before signing multi-billion dollar deals with American defence contractors. That’s because Trump’s ban has got very little to do with keeping American’s safe, and everything to do with appeasing his voters.

I feel it rather necessary to emphasise the point one more time – Not a single American has been killed by immigrants from the seven countries on Trump’s ban list. Overall, less than 100 have been killed by Islamic extremists after 9/11 – and just about all of them, with the exception of the Boston bombers, were born in America. Now, obviously one life lost to terrorism is too many, and, obviously, reasonable measures need to be taken to prevent this from happening. That being said, I also think it would help to view this relatively.

Since 9/11, 2016 was by far the worst year for Islamic terrorism in the US. In 2016:

49 Americans were killed by Islamic terrorism (all in one attack).

Over 30,000 were killed in motor accidents

Over 500,000 were killed by cancer

Over 11,000 were shot and killed by other Americans (this excludes suicides)

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Based on these statistics, if ISIS wants to inflict the highest possible number of casualties upon the United States, it should simply open a few gun stores across the Midwest. Americans are shooting and killing other Americans in numbers which would make any Jihadist blush with envy, and if the highest priority for President Trump is saving American lives, then perhaps he should do something to make sure that mentally unstable and violent people can’t buy rifles and shotguns at their local Wallmart. But this was never about saving American lives, was it? Trying to control gun sales is rather unpopular with Trump’s voter demographic while banning immigrants from certain middle-eastern countries isn’t (although it should be pointed out that the vast majority of Americans support reasonable gun control). On average, more Americans are killed by armed toddlers, or lawnmowers, than Islamic terrorists. Try to keep that in mind.

Trump’s immigration ban from the seven aforementioned countries is unlikely to prevent a single terrorist attack. Are you seriously suggesting that a terrorist organisation such as ISIS or Al-Shabaab doesn’t have the resources to get their Jihadists a Saudi or Egyptian passport? Furthermore, one would be delusional to assume that antagonising hundreds of millions of people in this way will not do wonders for ISIS’s recruitment numbers. This ban will not stop terrorists, it will only help create more of them.

Who will it stop then? How about Conservative members of the British Parliament who committed the great crime of being born in Iraq? How about refugees fleeing the exact same terrorism that Trump is supposedly trying to prevent? How about Iraqi translators who risked their lives to save those of American soldiers? How about Green Card holders who’ve lived in the United States for years, and are now barred from returning back home? How about British Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah, who was born in Somalia? What has Theresa May got to say about that while she’s desperately trying to negotiate a US-UK trade deal that will almost certainly end up screwing us? But don’t worry everyone, I’m sure this is exactly what Jesus would have done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump Will Get Whatever He Wants From Britain – We Have Given Up Control

News and Politics

“I hold with respect to alliances, that England is a Power sufficiently strong, sufficiently powerful, to steer her own course, and not to tie herself as an unnecessary appendage to the policy of any other Government. I hold that the real policy of England—apart from questions which involve her own particular interests, political or commercial—is to be the champion of justice and right; pursuing that course with moderation and prudence, not becoming the Quixote of the world, but giving the weight of her moral sanction and support wherever she thinks that justice is, and wherever she thinks that wrong has been done. Sir, in pursuing that course, and in pursuing the more limited direction of our own particular interests, my conviction is, that as long as England keeps herself in the right—as long as she wishes to permit no injustice—as long as she wishes to countenance no wrong—as long as she labours at legislative interests of her own—and as long as she sympathises with right and justice, she never will find herself altogether alone. She is sure to find some other State, of sufficient power, influence, and weight, to support and aid her in the course she may think fit to pursue. Therefore I say that it is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” – Henry Temple, British Foreign Secretary, 1st March 1848

The reaction of most British commentators to the fact that Theresa May will become the first world leader to meet with Donald Trump after his inauguration has been one of either horror or delight. To some, it was effectively an endorsement of the rhetoric and policies exhibited and advocated by Trump, and which May has previously condemned. To others, it served as a reminder that, as Britain prepares to leave the EU, it might find in Trump a desperately needed ally. They’re both wrong.

First the obvious. No trade deal with the United States, no matter how good its terms might be, will alone make up for the loss of single market membership. This isn’t my opposition to Brexit speaking, it’s simply an economic reality. Not only is Europe a larger market than America, but it is a market with which we do substantially more business. Just over 53% of UK exports go to Europe, just over 22% to Asia and just over 16% to North America [1]. These are simply the numbers, and I’m sure they speak for themselves.

Secondly the less so obvious. On the surface, it might appear that Donald Trump is a natural ally of a post-Brexit Britain. Not only did he support its decision to leave the European Union, calling it “a great thing”, but the new leader of the free world also happens to be surrounded by people who have a history of supporting individual nation state democracy, and therefore by extension opposing the EU. In his first interview with a British newspaper after the election, Trump said that he wants a UK-US trade deal ready as soon as possible, directly contradicting Obama’s “back of the queue” approach. However, aside from the aforementioned fact that a good trade deal alone will not solve all our problems, what exactly this deal will include is still very much an open question.

Trump said he wanted a quick deal, not one that overtly benefits Britain. Obviously, whatever happens, it will certainly be spun as such a deal for the sake of May and the Conservative Party, but the devil will remain in the details. Donald Trump is a man quite familiar with striking deals, in fact, he happened to write a book about it, and more crucially he knows how to screw people over in the process. As any capable dealmaker will without a doubt be aware, the best possible time to strike an advantageous deal is when your adversary is at their most desperate, and be under no illusion – Theresa May is very, very, desperate right now.

One of the great ironies of Brexit is that rather than “taking back control”, we have chosen to relinquish what little control we did have. The terms of our post-Brexit relationship with the European Union will be determined not by us, but by its remaining 27 member states: from France to Hungary, to a tiny province in Southern Belguim. If you think I’m exaggerating, one such province by the name of Wallonia managed to individually veto an entire trade deal between the EU and Canada because it deemed it to be detrimental to its interests. At the time, leading Brexiteers used the situation as an example of the EUs horrifying inefficiency. However, aside from the fact that it was evidence of precisely the kind of sovereignty that they claimed the EU denied its members, the inefficiency we voted to escape might very well be what kills us. This is only part of the reason why May’s hope of striking an exit deal within two years is delusional and dangerous fantasy.

While Britain’s future relationship with Europe will be determined by Europe, it’s future relationship with the United States will similarly be determined by the United States. Just like Britain at the very high of its power, the United States of America has no friends, nor does it have any enemies. The United States has interests, and it is those interests that are eternal just as they are perpetual. Trump, or at least the people representing Trump, know that while Theresa May will rather accept no deal than a bad deal when it comes to the EU, she will certainly have to accept any deal with regards to the United States. A failure to do so will be a PR disaster of epic proportions. Britain is an open shop for Donald Trump’s America. Whatever he wants he should know he can get, whether it be lower tariffs or better access for American pharmaceutical companies to the British National Health Service. The “special relationship” is largely a con, in the sense that it is designed to always benefit the United States. Truman wanted to stop the USSR and develop trading relationships, so he gave the war-torn nations of Europe billions of dollars to rebuild. Bush wanted Blair’s political support for his war in Iraq. As for what Trump wants, we’ll find out very soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

If UKIP can’t win Stoke, they might as well disband

News and Politics

I know my previous blog post was largely about how we put far too much thought into predicting politics as opposed to seeking to influence them, but here’s a prediction for you – 24th February 2017 will be the day we know whether the UK Independence Party can survive as a genuinely influential force in British politics, that being the day when we learn who wins the Stoke Central by-election.

After Paul Nuttall was elected as UKIP leader a few months ago, the direction he set out for his party was clear: UKIP, he claimed, would soon replace Labour as “the patriotic voice of working people”. In no uncertain terms, his hope is to replicate in the North of England what the SNP has managed in Scotland – for a torrent of nationalism to sweep away a distant metropolitan elite that no longer cares for them. Some have chosen to take this threat to Labour’s traditional heartlands rather seriously, and Nuttall certain intends to deliver.

Stoke-on-Trent is not really a Northern city, but if UKIPs political revolution can happen anywhere then it’s here. In 2010, Tristram Hunt was elected as the MP for Stoke Central, although his name should be enough to tell you that he wasn’t born there. A historian and an academic by trade, Hunt studied at Cambridge and was only selected as its parliamentary candidate for the then safe seat as a favour from Gordon Brown to Labour’s infamous spin doctor Peter Mandelson. Safe to say, he represents everything that UKIP claims to hate – a wealthy Southern academic parachuted into a safe seat he had zero previous links to. Hunt resigned as an MP earlier this month to become the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, however, the city of Stoke itself seems to be a far greater opportunity for UKIP than the history of its previous Labour incumbent.

In last year’s referendum, Stoke voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. In the general election the year before, UKIP came second in the Stoke Central constituency, about 5000 votes behind Labour (hardly an insurmountable lead in the current political climate). Nuttall seems to be confident, which is why he’s standing as the UKIP candidate himself. Just so this couldn’t be clearer, next month’s by-election will take place:

  1. In a city that voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU
  2. Between the leader of Britan’s chief Eurosceptic party and a remain-supporting Labour candidate
  3. In a working class constituency at a time when Labour’s current leadership seems to be an utter anathema to anyone outside middle-class London socialists.

I’ll say the same thing I did about the Lib Dems before the Richmond Park by-election. If UKIP cannot win here under these circumstances, then they might as well disband.

Their alleged existential threat to Labour’s heartlands has been hyped up for years now. Nuttall himself has unsuccessfully stood for Parliament a number of times in Liverpool. 2015s by-election in Oldham West and Royton, where UKIP was seen as the favourite to win, instead saw his party decrease its share of the vote from the general election, while Labour increased its majority. For months, Brexit has been pitched as an issue that can supersede all else in Britain’s domestic politics. The Lib Dems have more or less proved that to be true with affluent remain voters, now UKIP must finally prove it can do the same with working class leavers, or be forever cast out into irrelevance.